Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

The Nightingale

        | HSW

Visitors to the palace would leave thinking only of the nightingale.
Visitors to the palace would leave thinking only of the nightingale.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Many years ago, the emperor of China lived in the most magnificent palace. Its rooms were vast. Its windows were draped with the finest silk. Its rugs were woven by the finest Persian rug weavers. Its furniture was handmade from the rarest woods by the world's best craftsmen. Its gardens were tended by one hundred skilled gardeners.

One of the gardeners would tell visitors to the palace, "I will now show you the most beautiful thing in all of China." He would lead them to a stand of very plain trees and point to a very plain, gray bird. The visitors would wonder what was so beautiful until the bird, a nightingale, would open its mouth and sing the most glorious music.

Because of the nightingale's wondrous singing, the visitors would leave thinking only of the beautiful bird. They would return home from their journey and tell their friends and families about the nightingale.

This meant that more and more people flocked to the palace, all for the same reason -- the nightingale. Every single visitor loved to hear the remarkable bird's song.

Yet the very palace at which the nightingale lived belonged to a person who had not heard the nightingale. You see, the emperor was very old, and hardly ever ventured out of his quarters.

The emperor of China received a letter from the emperor of Japan.
The emperor of China received a letter from the emperor of Japan.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

One day, a messenger brought the emperor a letter. It was from the emperor of Japan. "I have heard tell of this beautiful nightingale that you possess," wrote the emperor of Japan. "I would very much like to visit and hear its song with my own ears."

Of course, the emperor of China had no idea what this nightingale was. So he called for his men and asked, "Where is this nightingale? I order you to find this marvelous bird and bring it to me!"

The emperor's men searched the palace, looking behind drapes and under rugs and on top of furniture, but could not find the nightingale.

The emperor's men searched for the nightingale.
The emperor's men searched for the nightingale.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The emperor's men searched the palace grounds and gardens, looking among the plants and fruit trees, but could not find the nightingale.

Finally, one of the gardeners came forward, saying, "I know where the nightingale lives."

The gardener led the emperor's men to the stand of very plain trees, where they found the very plain, gray bird. The nightingale opened its mouth in beautiful song and the men knew they had found what they were seeking.

The emperor's men found a very plain, gray bird.
The emperor's men found a very plain, gray bird.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The emperor's men dashed back to the palace, the nightingale in their possession. Seeing the very plain, gray bird, the emperor asked his men, "Just what is so special about this nightingale?"

For the answer to the emperor's question, go to the next page.

For more children's stories and activities, check out:


More to Explore